Mitt Romney's ascension to Congress's upper chamber may be a safe bet, but that doesn't mean he'll have an easy road.
Just as the news broke indicating Romney will announce his candidacy for Orrin Hatch's, R-Utah, Senate seat on Thursday, Utah's Republican Party chairman slammed the former presidential candidate. “I think he’s keeping out candidates that I think would be a better fit for Utah because, let’s face it, Mitt Romney doesn’t live here, his kids weren’t born here, he doesn’t shop here,” Rob Anderson said in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, further accusing Romney of "using name recognition to win a seat."
"I have two questions for Mitt," Anderson continued. "First of all, why? And how do you expect to represent Utah when you don’t live here?"
The chairman also asserted that Romney "has been poaching all of the talent as far as campaign and messaging and financing," claiming his political stature is keeping a handful of serious candidates out of the race.
A Tribune poll taken in January found Romney dominating his presumed Democratic challenger Jenny Wilson 64 to 19 percent among registered voters.
But, of course, the former Massachusetts governor's staunch anti-Trumpism could cost him with some Utahns. Another poll conducted by the Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics in October found Trump holding a 52 percent approval rating in the state.
Anderson's sentiments may represent those shared by a larger portion of Utahns than national observers realize, a possibility bolstered by the simple fact he felt comfortable enough to express them in his capacity as state party chairman. Of course, it's hard to argue with a 64-to-19 spread, but Romney's candidacy may be poised to fuel the GOP's intraparty divisions, reigniting the bitter battle over Trump in a high-profile contest for national office.
Even if he doesn't attract a serious primary challenger, Romney's conservative allies and enemies in and out of the state will be monitoring his campaign closely, prepared to do battle over the political veteran's relationship with Trump.
Sen. Romney is a safe bet, but Anderson's comments signal he shouldn't rule out a contentious road to victory either.